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Yale law library shuts down attempt to investigate status of its Clarence Thomas portrait

Yale Law School dean acknowledged receipt of portrait donation in 2018

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Yale law library staff denied a reporter access to view the portraits hanging in its building in May and would not confirm whether a Clarence Thomas portrait donated to the library is among them, and this week deferred on numerous media requests asking about the whereabouts of the painting.

College Fix associate editor Maggie Kelly identified herself as a reporter and asked the interior gate attendant several times at the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale whether she could access the building to view its portraits. The attendant told her that only Yale law students and their guests are permitted to access the library. He also declined escorting the reporter around the building for a tour.

The law library website does not say the library is closed to guests, and lists its open hours for “visitors.”

The Fix this week called both “Contact Us” numbers listed on the website for the Reference Desk and the Circulation Desk. Both calls went unanswered. The Fix left a voicemail and emailed both departments to ask whether the library was open to the public and where the Clarence Thomas portrait was located.

Maryellen Larkin of the faculty services department connected The Fix to the Yale Office of Public Affairs, which has not responded. Nicholas Mignanelli, a research librarian at the law library, also directed The Fix to the public affairs division.

Rachel Gordon, Director of Library Operations, responded to The Fix in an email.

“The Yale Law School is not open to the public,” Gordon said. “The Lillian Goldman Law Library is only accessible from inside the law school, so by extension we are also closed to the public.”

“We have been advised to direct all media inquiries to the Office of Public Affairs,” Gordon continued.

In May, when asked specifically about the Clarence Thomas portrait, the attendant at the library also declined to confirm to The Fix where the portrait is located or whether it is still in the building, if at all.

The Fix emailed this week the Yale Law Library’s general information account as well as Heather Gerken, dean of the law library, to ask whether and where the Thomas portrait hangs in the library or is it is located elsewhere. Mignanelli responded, again asking The Fix to email the Office of Public Affairs. The Fix awaits a response.

“The portrait exists,” The Washington Free Beacon reported in April. However, “five years later, students and faculty members say they’ve never seen it, and certainly not displayed in a place of prominence,” the Free Beacon reported.

“In the spring of 2018, Yale Law School dean Heather Gerken … acknowledged the receipt of a donation from the Texas billionaire Harlan Crow to fund the commission of a portrait of Crow’s friend, Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas,” according to The Beacon.

“Yale commissioned the New York City-based artist Jacob Collins to paint it, and Collins told the Washington Free Beacon that, according to his records, the portrait was being framed in March 2019 and that he believes it was delivered to the school shortly thereafter,” according to the article. “Yale acknowledged his gift with a letter of thanks.”

The Fix emailed Collins to ask about the whereabouts of the portrait but has not received a response.

“In an April 2018 letter to [Texas billionaire and portrait donor] Harlan Crow, Gerken thanked him for the gift and described Thomas, a 1974 graduate of the law school, as a ‘trailblazer,'” according to The Free Beacon.

“We are so pleased to welcome the justice to our outstanding gallery of portraits,” Gerken wrote, according to the Free Beacon. “They will always have a place of prominence at Yale Law School.”

ProPublica, a left-leaning publication that describes itself an “independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism with moral force,” referred to the donation in an April 6 article on Crow and Thomas.

“Crow’s foundation…gave $105,000 to Yale Law School, Thomas’ alma mater, for the “Justice Thomas Portrait Fund,’ tax filings show,” the news outlet reported April 6.

Seventy-two portraits hang on the school’s walls, according to the Yale University Visitor Center website. The portraits include a variety of distinguished alumni.

Outside donors funded most portraits hanging in the Yale Library, the Yale Daily News reported in 2015.

Former Yale Law School Dean Guido Calabresi told the Yale Daily News in 2015 that justices of the Supreme Court are in an “automatic” category of portraits, meaning that “no permission [from the dean] to put up the portraits.”

Calabresi said “the rules governing the portraits go back well before his deanship” and also explained how the portraits are commonly funded, the Daily News reported.

“Portraits other than those of former deans must be paid for through outside funding, which usually involves alumni sponsorship,” according to the article. “Because the Law School does not actively seek funding for portraits, individuals have to take the initiative to raise funds for a portrait of someone.”

MORE: Students at Savannah College of Art and Design want Clarence Thomas’s name removed from building

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